Sunday, July 25, 2010

Rambam- Yesodei Hatorah Perek 5 Halacha 5- You Can't Forcibly Hand Over One to Save Many

נשים שאמרו להם עובדי כוכבים תנו לנו אחת מכן ונטמא אותה ואם לאו נטמא את כולכן יטמאו כולן ואל ימסרו להם נפש אחת מישראל. וכן אם אמרו להם עובדי כוכבים תנו לנו אחד מכם ונהרגנו ואם לאו נהרוג כולכם. יהרגו כולם ואל ימסרו להם נפש אחת מישראל. ואם יחדוהו להם ואמרו תנו לנו פלוני או נהרוג את כולכם. אם היה מחוייב מיתה כשבע בן בכרי יתנו אותו להם. ואין מורין להם כן לכתחלה. ואם אינו חייב מיתה יהרגו כולן ואל ימסרו להם נפש אחת מישראל:

[In a case where] there is a group of Jewish women and Idol Worshipers say to them, "Give us one of you and we will make her impure (aka rape her), but if not then we will make you all impure" then these women should all become impure and they should not hand over a single Jewish soul. So too, if Idol worshipers would say [to a group of Jews], "Give us one of you and we will kill him/her, but if not we will kill all of you" everyone should be killed and not a single Jewish soul should be handed over. If they (the Idol Worshipers) singled out a specific person and said give so and so to us or we will kill all of you, then [what should be done depends on this person]. If this person is deserving of the death penalty like Sheva ben Bichri (See Shmuel 2 chapter 20: he rebelled against King David) then you can give him/her over, but don't teach this to them (the people making the decision) as a first option. If this singled out person is not deserving of the death penalty then everyone should be killed and not a single Jewish soul should be handed over. 

This Rambam brings up the idea of "Who says your blood is redder than his/her blood" found throughout Judaic literature. Indeed, the Rambam is telling us that there is no situation where it is desirable to hand over any Jew, no matter what their status, to be mistreated by Idol Worshipers. For, the Rambam tells us that if someone is liable for the death penalty, even that person should not be handed over (although they are allowed to hand that person over). So we see that no matter what the situation a person should never consider their life more valuable than the person's next to them. All Jews are equal in the value of their lives.

I think this law teaches us the true meaning of comradery. Every Jew is responsible for the well being of every other Jew. This is what the phrase of כל ישראל ערבין זה לזה means (All of Israel is guarantors for each other; see Rashi Vayikra 26:37) It is not just that we must try to eradicate sin from amongst our nation, but also that we must protect one another like brothers and sisters.

It is important to remember that the Rambam is talking about handing over a person to unjust and barbaric people where the person being handed over will be abused and mistreated. However, this law does not apply to handing over a person to just non-Jews that follow the Noahide laws. The Rambam specifically says Idol Worshipers because of their base nature and unjust characteristics. However, if the just laws of a non-Jewish nation would require a punishment of a Jew living in that nation then this whole discussion does not even come up because it falls under the precept of "The Law of The Land" (found in several Gemoras, one being Baba Kama 113a).


Mike S. said...

The source is a Yerushalmi in Temurah where there is a machloket between Resh. Lakish and R. Yochanon over how to understand the case of handing over Sheva ben Bichri, which is brought l'halacha by the Mishna. R. Yochanon understands that the case is that the idolaters have specified which person they want to kill, and they have the ability to kill everyone. Resh Lachish adds that they the person they want has to be capitally liable for something he did. They both agree that if the idolaters ask for one (unspecified) person to be handed over, that they must allow themselves all to be killed rather than select one to be killed by the idolaters. Rambam paskens like Resh Lakish, other Rishonim disagree.

E-Man said...

I too read the Nosei Kalim. Are you trying to correct something or just giving the background of where the Rambam got the halacha from?

Mike S. said...

Just to give additional background, since I have been going through the related sugya in Sanhedrin.

E-Man said...

Its appreciated. I was just wondering if you were trying to correct something.